Incumbent Kelly Jones leads in primary for Lawrence school board; 2 candidates tie for the final spot in the general election

photo by: Contributed photo

Kelly Jones

The two incumbent candidates for the Lawrence school board — Kelly Jones and G.R. Gordon-Ross — appeared set to move on to the general election after Tuesday’s primary, despite a large number of other candidates looking to unseat them.

However, it’s not yet clear who will be taking the sixth and final spot on the general election ballot, because two candidates — Melissa Clissold and Elizabeth Stephens — were tied for sixth place with 988 votes each when Tuesday’s vote counting ended. Only the top six vote-getters can move on to the general election, which is scheduled for Nov. 2.

Some votes may still be counted later this week, because ballots cast through the mail that were postmarked by Tuesday can be counted if they are delivered to the Douglas County Clerk’s Office by Friday.

Jones finished first in the primary, and Gordon-Ross finished third. Both were first elected to the board in 2017. Joining them in the top three was newcomer Kay Emerson, who has served on the district’s COVID-19 advisory committee and is also the chair of the board’s parents of color advisory committee.

Jones, who got 2,995 votes, or 19.02% of the total votes, told the Journal-World she was honored to still have the support of the district’s voters. She said she looked forward to moving on to the general election.

“My intention is to keep working hard on the campaign and doing the best I can for the district and students,” she said.

Jones said she was especially grateful for voters’ support after the COVID-19 pandemic made for a difficult 2020-2021 school year. The pandemic led to many contentious board meetings as the district figured out how to educate students during the pandemic, and Jones said she thought her experience on the board would be beneficial as the district continued to navigate those issues.

“I know what I want to do to help the district recover (from the pandemic) and help teachers and students get to a space where we are managing what they lost last year and are creating opportunities for them to grow,” Jones said. “I do believe having experience goes a long way.”

Jones said she also wanted to continue working on improving equity in the district and to work toward increasing wages for district staff.

Gordon-Ross said he was “ecstatic” to move forward. He said he had always planned to run for a second term on the board and he is now one step closer to retaining his seat. He said he was also excited that Jones would be moving on.

Moving forward, Gordon-Ross said he’d heard many people concerned about the district’s budget and how COVID-19 affected student learning and school operations. He said he felt grateful and honored to see that voters still seemed to trust him to handle those issues, despite how contentious school board meetings became during the pandemic

“There were so many reasons for people to be upset with us, and they could have just directed that at both (Jones) and I,” he said. “Even though at times we may have disagreed and may not have wanted to go down the same path, we all ended up in the same place.”

Emerson did not respond to a phone call from the Journal-World seeking comment.

Two more of the 12 candidates in the race appeared set to move on to the general election as of Tuesday — Andrew Nussbaum, a former special education teacher for the district, and Nate Morsches, a registered nurse and co-founder of a downtown Lawrence restaurant. They finished in fourth and fifth, respectively.

However, because of the tie, it wasn’t clear on Tuesday what would happen with the sixth-place spot.

Both Clissold and Stephens told the Journal-World they were proud of the election results, even though they understood they might not be moving on to the general election. Stephens said she believed the school board candidates were all “solid individuals” and said it was an honor to run. And Clissold said she was happy with her campaign to shift focus toward improving wages for the district’s classified staff. The labor union representing classified staff is currently in contract negotiations with the district.

The other five candidates — Leticia A. Gradington, Douglas Redding, Travis Tozer, Myranda Zarlengo and Markus Logan — appeared to have been eliminated from the race.

Unofficial school board primary results:

• Kelly Jones, 2,995, 19.02%

• Kay Emerson, 2,568, 16.31%

• G.R. Gordon-Ross, 1,959, 12.44%

• Andrew Nussbaum, 1,445, 9.18%

• Nate Morsches, 1,411, 8.96%

• Melissa Clissold, 988, 6.28%

• Elizabeth Stephens, 988, 6.28%

• Markus Logan, 907, 5.76%

• Myranda Zarlengo, 855, 5.43%

• Douglas Redding, 659, 4.19%

• Travis Tozer, 652, 4.14%

• Leticia A. Gradington, 318, 2.02%

Contact Dylan Lysen

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